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6 Things I Have Learnt During My First Years at Engineering School

This article is a collection of things that I wish I could have told my younger self before I started engineering school.

This article is a collection of things that I wish I could have told my younger self before I started engineering school.

Having graduated from high school with a bachelor's degree in social studies, the world of engineering was a vast and unknown territory for me.

Never had I expected to be faced with such challenges as I have been for these past few years, but neither did I know how very gratifying and absorbing I would find it.

I look back at the enthusiastic and very ignorant girl who battled fiercely against numbers, equations, and geometry day after day without a clue of what she was doing, and my heart gets filled with tenderness and lots of compassion.

I wonder, if I could look at her right now, what would I tell her? What could I say to help and comfort her?

That is why today I decided to put literature aside for just a bit, and share a little piece of advice for the ones who are walking this path, and the ones who are considering engineering as their future career.

1. High School Will Not Prepare You for It

I do not know if this is accurate in every place in the world, but here in Argentina, it is a reality.

High school education is, in the best of cases, poor and inadequate. It has been suffering a constant decrease in the past decades.

The only chance to finish that period with an acceptable academic level is to choose a private school, something that for several kids is out of the question. Monthly fees are far too expensive for some students, so public schools are their only option.

With the quality and quantity of knowledge that those institutions can provide, it is not a surprise that so many young people struggle to go past entrance exams, and with the first-year subjects. It can be especially complicated with courses of studies such as engineering or medicine, that require a certain familiarity with exact sciences.

So, even though some of our public universities are internationally recognized for their excellence, we are not always able to make the most of them.

Many students end up giving up, and most of the ones who got their degrees, do not do it in time. As of 2018, only 21% of the students who started a course of studies in engineering get to graduate in Argentina, and it is estimated that out of 6300 citizens, there is only one engineer; a small number if we compare our situation with the ones of other countries.

All these lead me to my second point.

2. Patience Is Far More Important Than Intelligence

Any person would think, knowing the study plan of any engineering course that a great intelligence and an important amount of knowledge in math is required to succeed.

But as helpful as intelligence can be, the real quality to go through this course of studies is a very underrated one: Patience.

The ones that are going to be engineers are not the ones who can complete every task perfectly or score the highest mark in a test at the first try, but the ones that can make mistakes, not only once, but many times, and still keep at it.

The course is tough, you will be required to learn difficult subjects in a small period. The stakes are always high. Many people quit halfway because they cannot stand the pressure.

It takes some time for your mind to adjust, but once you start to advance with your first subjects, and get a more solid base of knowledge in the basics, everything will become noticeably easier.

3. It Matters Who You Are With

Do not hang out with people who only bring you down.

There are many categories of "people who bring you down": You have the ones who come from a good school and shove their knowledge on your face constantly, sometimes even mock you for not learning "fast enough", the ones who play only for themselves but disappear every time they are required to collaborate (Like a group project), the charismatic ones who do not touch a book until a week before the exams, or the ones who drive you mad with their negativity, only to mention a few.

It is important to be careful with the people you choose, not only for study groups or projects but for friendships, because they are part of your everyday life, and their attitude and behavior will have an impact on yours.

Try to surround yourself with people who help you feel motivated, who cheer you up when things do not go as plan and can be happy when you succeed.

I can say out of the experience, that student life is complicated enough without a toxic friend.

4. The Internet Can Be Your Best Friend

When it comes to studying, there are many resources available online: From websites and youtube channels dedicated to teaching math, physics, chemistry, and every subject you can imagine, to math and calculus software.

I will not make many recommendations here simply because most of the websites I use are in Spanish, but I can tell you a few helpful tools that have improved my student life a great deal.

  • Geogebra This is math software that has many applications for calculus, algebra, statistics, and geometry. It comes in handy to visualize graphics quickly and easily, which was helpful while studying functions, conics, and quadrics. You can even create interactive learning material with it.
  • Symbolab This is a calculator that can solve almost everything. I pass Calculus I last term, and I used it to learn many topics, including limits, derivatives, integrals, sequences, series and I am currently using it in Calculus II to learn differential equations. It works with graphs too. The best thing is that it provides you with a step by step solution, which is always welcome. It has saved many lives.
  • Librarygenesis This is a website where you can download all kinds of books for free, including some very well-known volumes on science and mathematics, that are very expensive to buy.

I would also suggest that you investigate if your university has some website or forum where you can find support. Mine has a forum run by students, where you can download class notes, exams, books, ask for advice on how to deal with subjects, for recommendations on teachers, or express any concern you might have about your student life. At the same time, it allows you to upload your own material of you wish to share it.

Websites like this are an invaluable source of information and material.

5. Every Experience Is Different

Keep this in mind.

Everybody learns in a different way, everybody has its strengths and weaknesses; the key is knowing yours.

When you start a course of studies many people will try to tell you what to do: How to study, how much time you might dedicate to every subject, and even how much time it is considered "normal" to achieve certain things. This is mostly meant kindly, but it is not always useful.

In the beginning, it is natural to compare yourself with your classmates and measure your progress accordingly.

You should not, because it does not matter. The only person that matters is you, what is better for you, and what helps you to grow.

Every person academic development is different, depending on many factors, such as the school you come from and the natural ability you possess to learn every subject.

For some people study groups are the best choice because it makes learning more dynamic and the group offers support; for others, groups might be intimidating, and they'd much rather study on their own, going for books or the internet.

Do not try to force yourself to study in a way that does not suit you, but find out what works better for you.

6. You Need to Love Every Step of the Way

I received this advice from the first teacher I had, on my first day of university.

He asked the class why would a person want to be an engineer, and some of my classmates mention the economic stability that such a career can provide as an important motive.

The teacher did not deny the truth of that affirmation but said that for him, it was not reason enough. He said that engineering is a very demanding course of study, and he did not think that a person could go through it all with his mind only in the economical part of the business. He said: "You have to fall in love with this career".

And it is true. The only way to deal with the difficulties of the first years is to love what you are doing, to find meaning in it, and to remember it every single day, especially when tiredness and hopelessness threaten you.

Engineering is a beautiful and fulfilling course of studies. Soon enough, you will see that everything was worth it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Literarycreature

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